Dr. Amy Walsh faced a common yet perplexing question: Is it normal to feel okay following a miscarriage? After surviving her own miscarriage, she couldn’t help but feel guilty for experiencing a sense of well-being. In this article, she shares her journey in dealing with those conflicting emotions and offers insights to others who may be grappling with similar feelings.
In recent years, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, and Pink have all discussed their problems with miscarriages. Despite the reality that 10-20% of women who know they are pregnant endure a miscarriage, the subject remains taboo in public discourse.
Celebrities’ experiences have allowed others to share their personal miscarriage experiences more openly. The majority of news articles concentrate (understandably) on the pregnant woman’s grief, shame, loneliness, and continuous sense of loss.
As a physician specializing in emergency care and a mother of one, I appreciate those voices because I know they echo the experience of many others who have experienced a miscarriage. Mother’s Day also occurred shortly after my miscarriage. Along with it came an onslaught of miscarriage tales to remind the uninitiated that Mother’s Day is not a straightforward holiday for many families.
Hearing these stories left me with a nagging sense of guilt: many felt a permanent void in their family following a loss. I did not. Following weeks of introspection, I came to the realization that I felt guilty for not experiencing enough grief over the loss.
Read on to discover why all miscarriage-related emotions, including feeling fine, are normal and acceptable.
The Loss of a Desired Pregnancy
I suspected I was pregnant for at least three or four days prior to taking the pregnancy test that confirmed it. I was excited. I believe my husband, Joe, was also present. My best-laid intentions were coming to fruition.
I had always thought that after my first child was 2, we would attempt to conceive another child. A month later, we achieved success. But, two days following that positive pregnancy test, I noticed some bleeding. First, I believed I would experience a miscarriage. However, the bleeding stopped, and the pregnancy progressed.
Being a physician, I was aware that there was a 50/50 possibility of miscarriage at this point, but my optimism grew as the pregnancy progressed. During my lunch hour one day at work, I secretly performed an ultrasound on myself. When I noticed a heartbeat, I believed myself, “I may be among the lucky 50%.”
At approximately eight weeks pregnant, the bleeding worsened. When I returned to the clinic for my initial appointment four days later, they were unable to detect a heartbeat, despite the fact that the ultrasound had shown everything to be normal four days prior. I recall crying but then gathering myself, getting dressed, grabbing the CD containing photographs of my embryo, and driving home.
Once I arrived home, I informed Joe and my daughter, Rita (who was already wearing her “Big Sister!” T-shirt). Even though she was only two years old, Rita could know I was sad.
We had a gloomy lunch. Afterward, the three of us shared an emotional embrace. That is the last time I recall grieving about my miscarriage.
It took about a week after the final scan for my miscarriage to begin in earnest. I was lucky that the procedure was not as unpleasant as I had anticipated. My cramps were never significantly worse than typical menstrual cramps. Nonetheless, the bleeding was significantly worse than I anticipated. Even though I am an emergency physician who frequently treats women through losses, I had a hard time believing that my body still had blood to lose (particularly in the first three hours).
While I observed my body physically respond as I expected, my emotional reaction was a surprise. During the first several weeks following my miscarriage, I waited to experience the deep grief I had witnessed in my patients, heard from my friends, and read about in newspapers and blogs.
It did not arrive. So I waited somewhat longer. There were negative emotions, but there was no deep anguish. I recall thinking, “Am I a monster because I do not feel worse? Or am I in denial and not fully experiencing my pain?”
Dealing with the Loss
As I adjusted to the loss of my embryo, the loss of our anticipated future caused me the most grief. However, hearing an interview with Chloe Parsons (of the blog Wholly Chloe) about miscarriage was helpful.
The discussion concludes that the body is an extraordinarily knowledgeable being. It is able to detect extremely early on when a pregnancy will not result in a surviving kid. When the benefits of pregnancy do not outweigh the risks, the body shields itself from pregnancy by causing a miscarriage. This was reassuring to me.
The most difficult aspect was telling my family. I felt silly for raising their expectations. Even today, several months later, I envy others who are at the same stage of pregnancy as I would have been at this time had I been pregnant.
But, due to my medical training, my rational left brain takes over. My embryo probably had a genetic or developmental issue (meaning that a major organ did not form properly) that rendered it unable to survive.
What I Discovered
My experience confirmed that there is no “correct” way to experience a miscarriage or bereavement. There are numerous reasons why a miscarriage may have a greater emotional impact, including:
- First pregnancy.
- Numerous miscarriages.
- Infertility (or even trying for a significant amount of time) (or even trying for a significant amount of time).
- Death of a spouse
- Physical and psychological fragility.
I have numerous acquaintances, including physicians, who were startled by the magnitude of their miscarriages’ effects. Even a profound realization that miscarriage is unavoidable and beyond our control does not necessarily protect against tremendous sadness.
Our life experiences, mental makeups, and support systems vary so greatly that there is no “correct” way to react to a challenging situation. Let’s be honest: loss stinks. There is no “wrong” way to experience a miscarriage. There is no “wrong” way to discuss your miscarriage (or not discuss it!).
Our reproductive health, including menstruation, loss, pregnancy, and postpartum recovery, is too vital to be subject to shame as a community.